Uncircumcised . An epithet of dislike almost confined to the Philistines. But underneath the whole speech of Jonathan lies the conviction of the covenant relation of Israel to Jehovah, of which circumcision was the outward sign. Notice also Jonathan's humble reliance upon God. It may be that Jehovah will work for us, etc.
Inspiration in Christian enterprise
The facts are—
1 . Jonathan, on his own responsibility, and without his father's knowledge: resolves on an attack upon the Philistine garrison.
2 . He expresses to his armour bearer his hope that God will help, and also the ground of that hope.
3 . He proposes to regard the first encouragement from the enemy to ascend the cliff as a sign of coming success.
4 . The sign appearing, Jonathan advances in confidence of victory. The recent transgression of Saul was now bearing some bitter fruit in his comparative inactivity and helplessness. It is not likely that Jonathan was ignorant of the displeasure of the prophet of God, or was surprised at the embarrassment which had come upon his father's affairs. In seasons of disaster and wrong there are select men of God who mourn the sins of their superiors and the woes of their country. Being one of this class, Jonathan may be regarded as exhibiting some of the highest results of the instruction and influence of Samuel during the slow reformation subsequent to the victory at Ebenezer. It is in God's heart to have pity on his people and to deliver them; but at this juncture can we not discern a wise propriety, not unmixed with retribution on the king, in conferring the honour of deliverance upon a man of piety, whose heart evidently yearned for the highest good of Israel? Thus do we see here, as in many other instances, how readily, and where not looked for, God raises up instruments to effect his purposes when the ordinary instruments fail through sin. Private enterprise can often accomplish what, in consequence of a loss of the right spirit, organised and official effort is utterly powerless to perform. The enforced inactivity of Saul, the desolations of the spoilers, and the multitudes of refugees in the caves of the mountains, must have produced a most depressing effect on the king and his followers. In their extremity, under an inspiration most pure and noble, help came in the daring enterprise of Jonathan, as recorded by the historian. It is possible that a secular mind on reading the narrative may regard the story as just one of those records of military adventure that are to be found in the annals of all warlike nations. But we are to form our estimate of the event by the light of Scripture; and when we consider it in connection with God's revealed purpose to work out the Messianic covenant through a chosen race, the tenor of Jonathan's life, and especially his words declaring his faith in God ( 1 Samuel 14:6 ), we must then see here not a wild freak of a daring soldier, nor even a clever device for achieving merely military distinction, but a true and noble inspiration to accomplish a great work in the name of God, and for the ultimate realisation of the Divine purposes. It may be assumed that, under the present conditions of the kingdom of Christ in the world, there is frequent and full scope for endeavours corresponding, in their relation to the organised efforts of the Church and in their chief characteristics, to the effort of Jonathan in its relation to the monarchy. Likewise the same inspiration is needed for the more perfect development and successful use of the organised forces of the Church. While nations live in sin, fearful evils fester in our crowded towns, debasing and dangerous customs hold multitudes in bondage, avenues to the human mind lie untraversed by Christian men, and possibly propriety degenerates into a rigid, obstructive conservatism, there is room for men and women who dare to go and do what seems impossible, and for a fresh baptism on the hosts of God to inspire them to deeds of valour and self-denial. It is possible that spurious forms of enthusiasm may arise, and may pass for heaven-created zeal. Contagion of sentiment may obtain the force of a torrent. The emotional element in religion may be abnormally developed, and incline, under stimulus, to deeds which no sound judgment will justify. But grant all this, and more, and yet it is true that there is a pure inspiration in the service of Christ much to be coveted. Let us consider the characteristics of such a true inspiration.
I. IT IS DISTINGUISHED BY INDIVIDUALITY . Whether it be found in private action or in the combined effort of the Church, it does not appear as the mere product of organisation, nor as a revival of stereotyped custom. Jonathan's inspiration began in his own heart. It was, in the shape it took, the natural outcome of the man. Considerations of the position of affairs aroused his nature, but he was no copyist, no waiter upon other men's deeds. Keeping the secret from his father was essential to the more perfect individuality of his feelings and his enterprise. Ideas grow in power over us when we nourish them. Sometimes, like the Apostle Paul and Jonathan, we do better not to "confer with flesh and blood, but brood over our thought and purpose, by the aid of the Spirit of God, till they become a power which must work outwards in forms true to our own personality. There is far more individuality in the Christian Church than is at present developed. When a Christian is, as the result of brooding over things, so permeated with a conviction of his obligation to Christ, a yearning to save men from sin, and a spirit of self-sacrifice, as to be mastered by these forces, he will find out some way in which his natural aptitudes and capabilities may be turned to account in Christ's service. All great and beneficial movements have borne the stamp of individuality, from the labours of the Apostle Paul on, by Luther, up to the latest endeavours to save the waifs of our city population.
II. IT CONTEMPLATES AN END CONFORMABLE TO THE END FOR WHICH CHRIST DIED . Jonathan reveals his piety and his intelligence in using language to his armour bearer to the effect that he thought it probable that the Lord might save through his instrumentality. He sought the salvation which God loves to accomplish, and for which the order of Providence was working. It is our privilege to take a wider and more spiritual view than even a devout Hebrew. There is an end contemplated by God, and being wrought out by the great sacrifice on the cross, with its concomitant influences—a multitude that no man can number redeemed out of every nation, kindred, and tribe from the bondage and pollution of sin. Whoever sets his heart on any good work, conformable, and therefore tributary, to that issue,—be it social amelioration, rescue of lost ones from vice, sanitary improvements, diffusion of knowledge,—is so far sharer in the true inspiration. But especially is that a true and noble inspiration which not only aims at ends which, being good and moral, are so far conformable and helpful to the end for which Christ died, but aims at that spiritual salvation on which the heart of Christ was supremely set when he gave himself a ransom for us. This is the longed for issue of all those noble workers at home or abroad who visit the abodes of sin, and seek, as though they cannot refrain from it, to gather the poor degraded ones into the Saviour's blessed fold.
III. IT IS CHARACTERISED BY FREEDOM FROM PERSONAL VANITY . Jonathan's motives were transparently pure. There was none of the restlessness of the inactive soldier craving for opportunity to display prowess; no regard for self in his self-denial and risks. His references to the Lord and the saving of the people he loved reveal a true, generous, self-sacrificing spirit. It is when works of benevolence, and especially works strictly spiritual, are devised and carried through in this spirit that we are under the influence of a true inspiration. A love of praise, a desire for prominence, fondness for being counted a great and successful worker, an unreasonable sensitiveness to apparent neglect, and kindred feelings, are the "little foxes" that steal the grapes.
IV. IT IS MARKED BY IMPLICIT DEPENDENCE ON THE POWER OF GOD . Jonathan showed prudence and skill in the ascent of the precipice and in the encouragement he sought for advancing by means of the "sign;" but the feat passes out of the category of "reckless," or even, in the common usage of the term, "daring," when we note that, having the sign as a kind of answer to the prayer of his heart, he rested his success not on his skill or strength, but on the Lord, with whom there "is no restraint to save by many or by few." He was inspired every step of the way up the rocks by trust in the ever present Power which shields the faithful and works the wonders of redemption for his people. Here lies the secret of the true inspiration that has wrought so powerfully in the Church of God in its purest and most successful eras. The apostles felt that it was not of man, but of God, to save. A few feeble Jews were mighty, through God, to the pulling down of many a stronghold. It is this which enables the missionary to toil on amidst the loathsome vices of the savage, and the friend of the outcast at home to attempt what none others dare.
V. IT IS MARKED ALSO BY THE BUOYANCY OF HOPE . When Jonathan said, "It may be that the Lord will work for us," it was not to express uncertainty, but to cheer a man of less faith, and to indicate the belief that God was about to use him in his service. He rightly interpreted his yearning to be used as an inspiration of God, and when the "sign" came that assured him that his heart's desire was accepted, he moved on with a cheerful spirit. "Come up after me: for the Lord hath delivered them into the hand of Israel." The modesty of the assurance! "The hand of Israel ; " not " my hand." This buoyant spirit that looks on in hope founded on deep conviction of God's faithfulness inspires every one who is truly called to labour for Christ. The tone of the apostles all through their toils is one of cheer. The golden gates of the eternal city seem ever to shine before them, and they hear already the new song. Every one on whom this true apostolic succession has come enters into sympathy with them, and no longer toils with dejected brow and despairing heart.
General lessons .—
1 . There is abundant encouragement for Christian work in the historically illustrated fact that God does accomplish great results through feeble and varied means.
2 . It is a question with each of us whether we really believe that there "is no restraint with the Lord," and whether lack of faith in this great truth does not explain much in our life and labour which we deplore.
3 . We may ask ourselves whether there is anything in the present state of the Church and the world affording scope for our special exertion after the manner of Jonathan's.
4 . It should be an inquiry as to whether we are open to receive and welcome an inspiration from the Lord to enter on some work involving self-denial and difficulty.
5 . If we think we are inspired to undertake some difficult work for Christ, we should discriminate between sudden impulse and mature irresistible longing; and, seeking counsel of God, follow the signs of Providence.